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The Jews of Soviet Russia: Berlin Debate Between Jewish Ex-minister of Justice in Lenin’s First Gove

February 27, 1932
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A debate on the position and future of the Jews in Soviet Russia between Otto Heller, a member of the Communist Party, who recently created a stir with his book, “Disappearing Jewry”, and Dr. J. Steinberg, who was one of the leaders of the Left Social Revolutionaries, and in the early days after the Bolshevik Revolution was Minister of Justice under

Lenin, attracted a big gathering here of representatives of all sections of Berlin Jewry, Zionists of all sades of opinion, leading members of the Federation of Liberal Jews, of the Central Union of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden, the O.R.T., the Agudath Israel, students and lecturers at the Rabbinical Seminary and the High School of Jewish Learning, Rabbis, Jewish Judges, doctors, artists, and officials.

Dr. Steinberg is an orthodox religious Jew, and though not a Zionist, he is strongly Jewish Nationalist, and his Socialism is not Marxist. He is looked up to as the spiritual leader of the Jewish religious Socialists.

Otto Heller defined Communism as the Marxist Revolutionary doctrine of the class war and the liberation of the proletariat and the peasants with the aim of establishing a class-less society. Jewry, he defined as the sum-total of Jewish individuals, and possessing a definite social-historical orientation. He saw the historical significance of Jewry in the monopoly activity of its members as the circulators of commodities, and Jewry was bound to disappear, in his opinion, because it was being deprived of its function by the circulation of commodities being taken over, on the one hand, by the bourgeoisie in the western countries, and, on the other hand, by the State producing and consuming plan in Socialist Russia. There is no longer a united Jewish nation, he claimed, but only remnants of Jewish national life in Eastern Europe.

Dr. Steinberg contended that the part the of the Jews in the circulation of commodities was neither the origin of Jewry, nor an indispensable condition for its continued existence. The Jews had not selected this form of activity, but it had been forced upon the Jews, because all other avenues were closed to them. Why had the Jews in the days of ancient Rome already refused to fight on the Sabbath? hat had compelled the Jews to uphold monotheism as the fundamental basis of Jewish life, for which they endured exile, torture and the auto-de-fes, alike under heathenism, Christianity and Islam, when by a formal act of renunciation of Judaism they could have maintained their social function?

Karl Marx’s views on the Jewish question were wrong, Dr. Steinber said, and Marx did not know Jewish history, and he had no acquaintance with any important sections of the Jewish people.

Heller did not deal with Jewry and Judaism on scientific lines, he complained, but he started with the preconceived notion that Communism was the only solution of the Jewish question, and that Communism would solve all difficulties and all conflicts.

Judaism had seen great civilisations and new social forms arise and decay, he said, and it still went on, To the thousand-year plan of Jewish history, Communism was only an episode.

Anti-Jewish feeling had always been directed against all classes of Jews, Dr. Steinberg said. Jewish workers were net exempt and anti-Jewish feeling had not disappeared in the factories of Soviet Russia. He did not see any solution of the Jewish question in Russia, not even culturally. It was true that they had Jewish papers, and Jewish schools, and even Jewish regions, but their Jewish culture was only a translated culture. Jewish history as taught in the Jewish schools was not Jewish, and the Jewish press was only a medium of propaganda. The tragedy of the Jewish press was only a medium of propaganda. The tragedy of the Jews in Russia was that no Russian contemplated breaking off the process of Russian historic and cultural development, but that was what was contemplated when it was a question of the Jews.

Otto Heller said, in his reply, that he rejected every kind of national solution of the Jewish question, which prevented the Jewish proletariat taking its place in the united class front. He regarded assimilation as a social advance. Soviet Russia gave the Jewish workers and peasants a free choice to assimilate, or to carry on their Socialist upbuilding work on Jewish territory, in the Jewish language and in Jewish forms, and thus to become a nation, because the Soviet Union regarded Socialist upbuilding work in National forms as advantageous. The conception of a nation could hold good, however, only on the soil of a de-finitely-marked out territory.

To us, he concluded, there is no thousand-year plan in history, religion or nation. Jewry is disappearing, he said, but the Jews will live as a free nation in a classless society.

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